As we celebrate the memory of our fallen soldiers, and in so doing also acknowledge the many veterans among us, I felt it was time to share a little bit of my story and why I personally appreciate them so much. Of course, we all do. Without them, where would this country be? In a perfect world, there would be no war. It is a wretched thing, something I very much wish no person in any generation had to experience. Yet no one can deny, in this world, those who are willing to put their lives on the line for the protection and security of others are worthy of our honor, respect and deep gratitude.
Being in the military was always in the back of my mind. When I was in school I visited recruiters in both the Army and the Navy. It seemed attractive to me. I’d been introduced to World War 2 movies at seven years old, and my paternal grandfather’s Marine service at Iwo Jima was something my family was proud of.
For whatever reason, I didn’t follow through with it. Nothing new there, not following through with things was kind of my MO for the first 30 years of my life.
After high school, I attempted college four different times, and in so doing met an Army ROTC rep, a young Second Lieutenant with bright red hair, from another local college who gave a very persuasive speech. I decided it was time to join up.
I am ashamed to say that lasted all of two days. I just couldn’t do it. Being 20 minutes away made it difficult enough to get to PT on time. Then there were my chronic mental and physical health issues, which I’ve avoided talking much about for many years, but which do exist and have been one of the factors that contributed to a lot of my failures to see anything through.
My mother was a wonderful Christian woman, but not without her faults. Sadly, even though she occasionally tried to see that my health problems were addressed, I think she was hindered by a belief that God alone should be the source of our healing, and that seeking medical help or counseling for mental health issues amounted to denying God’s ability to heal. So, I grew up with that belief as well. Sure, I’ve used medication a few times in the past, but there was also a major wrestling that always went on before I would allow myself to seek help. Eventually I began to internalize the belief that, “Maybe this is the way it is going to be for me. If God wanted to heal me, He would.” I have to say that my mom’s belief was compounded by some of the teaching I grew up with. I’ve sat under some wonderful pastors, whom I respect and admire very much, but being the sensitive person I am, I think I tended to take everything they said verbatim, and internalized the belief that I had to allow God to heal me. To do otherwise amounted to distrust and even sin. Whether or not that is what they said, that is what I heard.
It wasn’t until I started dealing with these issues as a mother that God began to shift my paradigm. Last summer I spiraled through the very worst episode of depression and anxiety I’ve ever experienced. I’d already begun seeking therapy, so that was one major step in the healing process. But the physiological symptoms became so severe that I struggled to parent my children. I needed to be able to do that. I finally relented and began taking medication again, after many unmedicated journeys through this cycle.
So what does this have to do with Memorial Day? Well, it makes me appreciate all the more what they did, and what every living veteran has done as well, whether in war or peacetime, because the discipline of the soldiering life is something that was physically, mentally, and emotionally beyond me as a young person. Their strength, courage, and selflessness is that much more honorable to me. I will go a step further and say that, although wartime experiences make the trauma I’ve suffered look like a pleasant Sunday drive, I know that PTSD is a real thing and that many veterans have suffered deeply because of their experiences. I too have known what it is like to feel as if there is no one who can relate, no one who really “gets it,” and the sense of isolation that that brings.
I often think of my maternal great grandfather Milan, whose picture I keep in my writing area.
I truly treasure this picture. Yet the way my aunt remembers him from years later, he was a very closed-off person, didn’t talk much, and in his final years suffered with Parkinson’s. I wonder what he went through, what he saw, what he suffered, and how that might have contributed to the person he ended up being. There were some men of his and other wartime generations who chose to share their experiences, recorded for posterity in both non-fiction and fictionalized accounts. But there were many more who never talked about those things.
Again, I don’t want to glorify war, but it is a sad fact of the world we live in and therefore these individuals deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. I think more about the opportunities I missed because of all this. Certainly I believe that God was, is, and will always be in control. Perhaps those weren’t the right things for me anyway, or perhaps the time wasn’t right.
It’s interesting, however, to see how some of these things have become a part of my life anyway, perhaps not in the way I wanted them to. Sometimes, God takes the unfulfilled dreams and desires of our past and brings about their realization in other ways. I think about the family of soldiers God’s given me to write about. I acknowledge that they all fought on the opposite side of the Second World War. But it’s fascinating to me to read accounts from both sides, especially as you consider that these men were doing what they were convicted was their duty to their country and those they loved. I think it’s a thing many of us here in America look at with a little bit of awe, and we are thankful because we’ve enjoyed such great peace on our shores for so many years.
On Memorial Day, I thank God for all those who gave their lives for this country, those who came home from the front and lived to a ripe old age, those who have served in every generation, whether in war or in peacetime, and those who continue to serve.
And God, thank You for the many years of blessing You have bestowed upon America. May we always remain faithful stewards of those things, in Jesus name. Amen.